Australian Travel Agents Need to Be ‘Forward-Thinking in This Extraordinary Time’: Tourism Expert

October 22, 2020 Updated: October 25, 2020

Australian travel businesses have been advised to become “agile, resilient and forward-thinking” enterprises that can turn the COVID-19 crisis into opportunities.

Lecturer Elaine Yang, from Griffith University’s tourism department, said the travel industry must use this “extraordinary time” as “an opportunity for transformation”, after the travel industry reached out to her for advice on how to handle the global pandemic’s effect on travel businesses.

More than half of travel agents have seen their revenue plunged over 100 percent since the government introduced CCP virus restrictions in March, according to a survey by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) of over 1,000 Australian travel agents.

“They have been paying more out in refunds, including previously made revenue than they are selling in new business. Fifty-six percent of these small businesses said they would have already closed down, if not for their commitment to ensuring their customers were refunded for holidays, “ASBFEO Ombudsman Kate Carnell said.

The peak body of travel agents echoed these sentiments, saying that if no special sector funding assistance is provided, over 50 percent of Australia’s travel agencies will fold.

According to the 2020-21 pre-budget submission by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (pdf), “these businesses have seen all new bookings cease, however, have been performing the onerous task of managing an estimated $10 billion worth of cancellations and refunds on behalf of an estimated four million Australians”.

After revenue plummeted by over 100 percent, CEO Steven Cairns of suburban travel agency Liberty Tours has had to reduce his full-time employees to part-timers.

“With JobKeeper, we have been able to keep them on payroll,” Cairns told the Epoch Times. But he noted that the industry needed more financial assistance until borders reopen.

“There are one or two inquiries trickling through, including a gentleman in his 80s who returned to Greece this year,” Cairns said.

As international travel will resume in the near future, Yang said that travel businesses should get ready and engage potential customers in the online space through digital and social media marketing.

“The hiatus may also present a space for travel businesses to acquire new skills such as digital competencies and rethink about their business strategies when the border is open.

“Focusing on discovering new destinations and travel routes could continue to appeal to international markets when the border is open, and disperse tourists to regional destinations,” Yang told the Epoch Times.

Cairns will be navigating the new landscape, not allowing the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus to put a damper on his business.

“Liberty Tours was growing prior to the crisis, and we will continue operating and expanding our market, such as additional brands to premium travellers.

“Hopefully, the world will return to normal again soon, and we will all start packing for some well overdue holidays,” Cairns said.